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Occupation: Rainfall

Director – Luke Sparke – 2020 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 128m

*

Australian alien invasion epic with lots of seasoned actors and heaps of special effects. What could possibly go wrong? out in cinemas on Friday, July 9th

A sequel to Australian alien invasion outing Occupation (2018) by the same director, this big effects movie spends much time and effort on spectacular alien spaceships and dogfights, prosthetics alien costumes and the occasional creature that couldn’t possibly be portrayed by a human actor in a suit. These visual effects do the job but aren’t particularly engaging. The piece overall lacks original ideas and panache. 

The sketchy plot has the world (i.e. Australia) invaded by aliens called ‘Greys’ because of their skin colour while a military force under Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies from Spider Man 2, Sam Raimi, 2004) is fighting back. Hayes believes force is the only way to deal with the invaders and has consequently sidelined peace negotiator Amelia The Human (Jet Trantor from Thor: Ragnorok, Taika Waititi, 2017) who has made the effort to learn to speak the alien language. Greys unsympathetic to the invasion live amongst the humans. 

A wise elder named Abe (David Roberts from The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 2003) despatches a two-man recon mission to find and discover the exact nature of the eponymous Project Rainfall.… Read the rest

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Ishiro Honda Double Feature: The H Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 美女と液体人間) and Battle In Outer Space (Uchu Daisenso, 宇宙大戦争)

The H Man

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1958 – Japan – Cert. X – 86m

Battle in Outer Space

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1959 – Japan – Cert. U – 90m

Alongside the standalone release of Mothra (1961) comes a double bill of two more Toho science fiction movies directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya: , The H Man (1958) and Battle In Outer Space (1959). The Toho studio is associated more with monster movies than any other genre, notably Godzilla (1954) and Mothra. The superior entries in this cycle tend to be the ones they directed, including the initial 1954 film which ticked all the right boxes to prove a massive success.

When no-one at Toho was quite sure what had made Godzilla work, the pair collaborated on a number of different SF films before everything came together on Mothra. The H Man is a monster film dressed up in gangster trappings while Battle in Outer Space is an epic with space stations, flying saucers, rocket ships, an alien moon base and alien mind control… [read more]

Over at All The Anime, I review Eureka!’s Ishiro Honda double bill Blu-ray.

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This Island Earth

Director – Joseph Newman – 1955 – US – Cert. PG – 83m

*****

UK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Pioneer continue to plunder the Universal vaults for SF gems. I’d never heard of This Island Earth when a print turned up for a revival run at London’s late lamented Scala repertory cinema in the early eighties, but having seen it several times since it’s a film which stands the test of time admirably. Moreover, being an Academy ratio film, it doesn’t suffer either the necessary indignity of widescreening black bars top and bottom or the thoroughly infuriating cropping of picture sides that accompanies too many video releases. The digital remaster on this Pioneer disc looks superb too – This Island Earth may be a good deal more than merely the sum of its special effects, but it IS an effects movie and those effects are impressive by the standards of the day (even if they creak a little now). What’s more, most of them are on side 2 of this disc in glorious CAV.

Warning: (plot) spoilers.

Eschewing obvious alien invasion plot lines, the narrative has nuclear research scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) slowly lured into an alien conspiracy alongside rival in his field of research Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue).… Read the rest

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The War Of The Worlds

Director – Byron Haskin – 1952 – US – Cert. PG – 82m

****

RUK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Hungarian born George Pal, who produced the stop-frame Puppetoons shorts in the forties, chose H.G.Wells’ seminal alien invasion novel for his fourth live action production. Media wunderkind Orson Welles had already transplanted the Home Counties setting across the Atlantic to New Jersey for radio; it was only natural that a rising Hollywood producer such as Pal should shift events further West to California. A then‑unknown Puppetoon animator named Ray Harryhausen had pitched a movie version at Welles, without success. However, while Welles was beginning his legendary slow descent from the pinnacle of the movie biz, Pal was clearly in the ascendant.

It’s not hard to see the attraction of the Wells’ novel to such creative heavyweights. Orson Welles, whose radio version had interrupted what appeared to be a programme of live, on air dance music with a series of eye-witness newsflashes of the Martian landings, clearly relished the prospect of panicking an entire nation in art if not in life. Harryhausen, one imagines, would have recreated Wells’ towering tripods, mechanical Victoriana burning up the Home Counties with their terrifying death rays (a decade later, Harryhausen’s First Men In The Moon, Nathan Juran, 1964 is packed with Victorian industrial ephemera).… Read the rest

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Sputnik

Director – Egor Abramenko – 2020 – Russia – Cert. 15 – 113m

***** some of the underlying concepts and the special effects

** everything else

Available on VoD from Friday, August 14th. Now on Netflix

In the early 1980s a two-man Russian spacecraft undergoes a mysterious incident during its return to Earth leaving one of the crew dead. He has had half his helmet and half his head ripped off.

Survivor Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) is confined to a research base in the middle of nowhere for observation. Supervisor Kirill Averchenko (Aleksey Demidov) recruits psychiatrist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) who is in trouble for taking ethically questionable decisions concerning the life of a patient, believing that she did the right thing and saved a life. Averchenko needs someone who will do whatever it takes and damn the consequences and he would appear to have judged her correctly. Once there, however, she finds herself in conflict with chief scientist Yan Rigel (Anton Vasilev).

She quickly learns that the surviving, isolated cosmonaut is the host to an alien parasite which leaves his body at specific times of night then returns. And Konstantin, who suffered memory blackout during the return to Earth, doesn’t seem to know about the parasite.… Read the rest

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Memory: The Origins Of Alien

Director – Alexandre O. Philippe – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 95m

**** 1/2

A detailed examination of the ideas and personalities behind Dan O’Bannon, H.R.Giger and Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 SF shocker Alien – in cinemas on Friday, August 30th 2019, and then on VoD the following Monday, September 2nd 2019

When Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) first came out, no one knew about its most notorious scene. These days it’s been so referenced in films, television and popular culture that everyone, it seems, does so. If you’ve never actually Alien, watch it before seeing this documentary or reading this review.

You’d be forgiven, as this new documentary starts, for thinking you’d wandered into a different film. Spiders on sun-drenched stone surfaces. Footage of Greek temples. But then, visuals clearly inspired by Alien show three Furies waking up on the floor of a spaceship interior and advancing towards camera. The voice-over invokes the myth of Clytemnestra and the Furies, although… [Read more]

Memory: The Origins Of Alien is out in the UK on Friday, August 30th 2019, and then on VoD the following Monday, September 2nd 2019.

Review originally published in DMovies.org.

Trailer:

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Foreboding (Yocho, 予兆 散歩する侵略者)

Director – Kiyoshi Kurosawa – 2017 – Japan – 140m

*****

Loving the alien. Again. Japanese director reshapes his earlier Before We Vanish into an effective drama which plays out as an edge of the seat, sci-fi alien invasion thriller – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) 2018

This is not exactly a remake, not exactly a reboot, not exactly a sequel. Most definitely a companion piece, though, and arguably the more effective of the two movies. And apparently, an edit of the director’s five-part series for Japanese satellite station Wowow, although it feels like a (well over two hours long) standalone feature. Kiyoshi Kurosawa revisits Before We Vanish / Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (2017) for another story about the aliens clad in human bodies who steal concepts from people’s minds by touching a finger to a forehead E.T. (Steven Spielberg, 1982) style prior to a full scale invasion of Earth.

Where previously the director took the material and threw a cornucopia of different elements at it, this time round his efforts feel much more thought through and the resultant film far more consistent overall – a creepy and unsettling sci-fi paranoia thriller grounded in compelling, character-driven human drama.

Kurosawa builds his reinvented narrative round shop floor worker Etsuko (Kaho) whose friend Miyuki is going mad because of the strange presence in her home.… Read the rest

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Alien: Covenant

Director – Ridley Scott – 2017 – US – 15 – 122m

*** 1/2

The latest Alien franchise entry is an effective horror sci-fi, teeming with shocks, scares and twists, but it lacks the mythological depth of Prometheus and the twisted sexual connotations of Alien – in cinemas on 12th May 2017

This is Ridley Scott’s third Alien movie as director. His second Alien (1979) prequel or first Prometheus (2012) sequel – take your pick – is more like the former than the latter. On the one hand, its sci-fi ideas are more coherent and in line with other Alien franchise outings; on the other, unlike Prometheus it doesn’t periodically throw out lots of new ideas mining some of Alien‘s unexplained elements. Yet it does refer back to Prometheus.

A civilisation of charred or petrified bodies amidst otherworldly, ancient classical architecture suggests Scott is revisiting the Roman world of Gladiator (2000) or toying in his head with a film about Vesuvius erupting onto Pompeii. Again, take your pick. [Read more]

Alien: Covenant was out in UK cinemas on 12th May 2107, when this piece was originally written for DMovies.org.

Trailer:

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Prometheus

Director – Ridley Scott – 2012 – US – Cert.15 – 124m

*****

UK release date 02/06/2012.

Western social attitudes to women have come a long way since Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) gratuitously stripped down to her underwear prior to fending off the malevolent creature in the finale of Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi shocker Alien (1979), but would appear still to have a long way to go.

You might think the glass ceiling has been abolished with the expedition on spaceship Prometheus being run by ice-cool blonde Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), but subsequent plot twists (which we won’t reveal) suggest otherwise. Scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), impossibly pregnant with a mysterious and rapidly growing embryo, is unexpectedly forced to improvise when the automated medical operations facility with which she had hoped to perform her own Caesarian turns out programmed for male surgery only. If sisters are now doing it for themselves, plenty of male-designed hurdles are still making sure they don’t do it it that easily.

Elsewhere, as Prometheus pre-empts the Alien franchise’s “which one of the crew is an android?” gambit by introducing us to the non-human David (Michael Fassbender) walking around the ship before he awakens first Vickers then her subordinate crew members from hyper-sleep, the android male still appears to possess more final authority than anyone else on board.… Read the rest

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A Good Year

Director – Ridley Scott – 2006 – US – 12A – 118 mins

***1/2

A ruthless, successful Square Mile bond trader travels to Provence to sort out the estate he’s inherited from his late uncle – UK release date 27/10/2006

Back in the 1980s, British TV commercials spawned a number of hugely successful feature film directors, with Scott arguably the most talented. A great visual stylist, his impressive filmography includes the seminal (Alien, 1979; Blade Runner, 1982; Thelma & Louise, 1991), the blockbuster (1492: Conquest Of Paradise, 1992; Gladiator, 2000; Kingdom Of Heaven, 2005) and the forgotten (Black Rain, 1989; White Squall, 1996; G.I. Jane, 1997). Scott is perhaps the archetypal ‘style over content’ director: his impressive visuals often threaten to overpower everything else, yet his sense of style invariably makes anything he does worth a look. A film-maker, in other words, of extreme contradictions.

The end of that same era saw highly regarded London advertising man Peter Mayle relocate to the South Of France to pen a series of books about that region starting with the bestselling A Year In Provence.

Scott and Mayle have known each other since the eighties advertising boom.… Read the rest